25 October 2016

Mister Allen Writes a Murder Mystery

Recalled to Life
Grant Allen
n.p.: Velde, 2009

Una Callingham remembers nothing before the death of her father – and that she remembers with great clarity. A flash of light revealed his bloodied body dead the floor and the back of another man escaping through an open window. The shock of it all rendered Una an amnesiac, famous throughout Victorian England as the one person who might be able to bring the killer to justice. The poor girl's condition was so severe that she was reduced to something akin to infancy. Una must again learn to speak, dress and, one presumes, use the water closet. After four years of seclusion and instruction, she emerges, aged twenty-two, as an inquisitive and highly intelligent woman who is intent on solving the murder of her father.

Recalled to Life is one of Allen's more commercial endeavours; he would've told his friends to give it a pass, but I'll not give the same advice. An entertaining novella, it touches upon the scientific advancements that consumed much of the author's non-fiction. For example, Una's father was working on a camera that takes photographs in rapid succession, much like real-life murderer Eadweard Muybridge. In fact, one of these photographs shows the very scene the poor girl remembers, but from a different angle. It's a remarkable piece of evidence, one that confirms Una's earliest memory.

What so attracted me to Recalled to Life – when I still haven't read The Woman Who Did – is that Una's investigations lead to Canada. In fact, the latter half takes place in the Dominion, then not three decades old, as Una tracks the man she believes to be her father's killer to British Columbia. It is the weaker half, and flirts with melodrama at the end, yet I admit to having been taken by surprise when the murderer is revealed.

Could be that I'm not much of a detective.

Allen isn't exactly remembered as a mystery writer, but the intricacy of his plots and his talent for creating interesting, often quirky characters are just the thing one wants in the genre. Shame he didn't do more... I write of a man who published 51 books in his fifty-one years.

Favourite passage:
"Canada!" Minnie exclaimed, alarmed. "You 're not really going to Canada! Oh, Una, you're joking!"
Trivia: After What's Bred in the Bone, Recalled to Life is the second Allen I've read to feature a railway accident, and the third in which the railway influences the plot (see: Michael's Crag).

Object and Access: A 127-page trade-size paperback with blindingly white paper, my copy is one of two print-on-demand books in my collection. Coincidentally, the other is Allen's Michael's Crag, the work of Whiskey Priest and Caustic Cover Critic JRSM.

Valde Books can't compare. I bought it for the sole reason that in five years of hunting I'd never seen a copy for sale or auction. It's a sad fact that Recalled to Life was not terribly successful. It was first published in 1891 by J.W. Arrowsmith of Bristol, a house Allen biographer Peter
 Morton informs had "a surprising reputation for detecting potential best-sellers: the Grossmiths, Chesterton, Jerome and Edgar Wallace all appeared under its imprint." Sadly, with Recalled to Life Allen didn't join their ranks. The only other English-language edition came from Henry Holt in New York (above), though it has been translated into Swedish (Återkallad till livet, 1911) and Finnish (Elämään palautunut, 1920). Not one copy of any edition is listed for sale online.

English-language editions are held by the Kingston Frontenac Public Library and ten of our universities. Library and Archives Canada fails miserably.

The first edition can be read online heregratis – courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Related posts:

17 October 2016

A List of Montreal's Post-War Pulps: Second Shot

Late last month, I was interviewed by CULT MTL for their cover story on Montreal pulp and the Ricochet Books series. The issue arrived on the stands last week. Since then, I've been contacted by a number of people wanting a list of Montreal's post-war pulps. The only one of which I knew was this 2014 list made for my Canadian Notes & Queries column. I think it has stood the test of time – two years, anyway – but am now wondering whether it shouldn't be expanded.

All depends on one's definition of "post-war," really. For the purposes of the column, I chose the ten years that followed the August 1945 armistice – though, truth be told, I see the period as ending in 1960. Am I wrong? Americans tend to agree... much to do with Kennedy's victory and that torch being passed to a new generation, I expect. Across the pond, certain cousins maintain that it all ended in 1979 when Thatcher moved into 10 Downing Street.

And then a great darkness set in.

This revised list covers pulps set in Montreal and published between the armistice and the end of 1960, the last day of the farthing. Links are provided for my reviews of each. Titles that have been revived as part of the Ricochet Books series are indicated with asterisks.

The House on Craig Street
Ronald J. Cooke
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1949 

The first novel by magazine writer and editor Cooke, The House on Craig Street is about a kid who thinks he'll make a killing in the advertising game. He does, though this real passion is literature.

Love is a Long Shot
Alice K. Doherty [pseud. Ted Allan]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Allan's second novel – after the recently rereleased This Time a Better Earth – Love is a Long Shot is notable for containing the most disturbing scene in Canadian literature. I've written this before. I'll write it again. It haunts.

Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street*
Al Palmer
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Newspaperman Palmer's only foray into fiction. A slim novel written with tongue firmly in cheek, its value comes in its depiction of pre-Drapeau Montreal, a time when Dorchester was a street... and was called Dorchester.

The Mayor of Côte St. Paul*
Ronald J. Cooke
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1950

Easily the best of Cooke's three novels. Heavily autobiographical, like the first, it follows aspiring writer Dave Manley, who joins a crime syndicate in quest of material.

Wreath for a Redhead
Brian Moore
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1951

The very first novel by Moore, a man who would win two Governor General's Awards and be shortlisted for several Bookers.

 "Montreal Means Murder!"

The Crime on Cote des Neiges*
David Montrose
     [pseud. Charles Ross Graham]
Toronto: Collins White Circle, 1951

Montrose's debut introduces Montreal private dick Russell Teed. Here he's trying to prove the innocence of a Westmount girl accused of murdering her bootlegger husband.

The Executioners
Brian Moore
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1951

Dangerous men arrive in Montreal tasked with either kidnapping or killing an exiled foreign leader. Mike Farrell, a veteran of the Second World War and more than a few boxing rings, sets out to stop them.

Flee the Night in Anger
Dan Keller [pseud. Louis Kaufman]
Toronto: Studio Publications, 1952

Unique amongst the post-war pulps, Flee the Night in Anger divides its action between Montreal and Toronto. Beware the 1954 American reprint, which cuts out a good quarter of the text (including the dirtiest bits).

Murder Over Dorval*
David Montrose
     [pseud. Charles Ross Graham]
Toronto: Collins White Circle, 1952

The second Russell Teed book, Murder Over Dorval is set in motion when a Canadian senator is clubbed on the head during a particularly turbulent flight from La Guardia.

The Body on Mount Royal*
David Montrose
     [pseud. Charles Ross Graham]
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1953

The third and final Russell Teed adventure is also his booziest. This one involves blackmail, illegal gambling and, of course, a dame... two, in fact.

Intent to Kill
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Dell, 1956

The last of Moore's Montreal pulps. A thriller set in a building modelled on the Montreal Neurological Institute. The basis for a more than competent 1958 feature film of the same name. Both are recommended.
The Deadly Dames
Malcolm Douglas
     [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
New York: Fawcett, 1956

The first Sanderson to be published as a paperback original, The Deadly Dames sees the return or Montreal private dick Mike Garfin (see below), but under another name. By pub date, Sanderson had quit Montreal for Alicante, Spain.

Related titles:

Noirish novels not included because they were first published in hardcover or because they don't take place in Montreal.

Daughters of Desire
Fletcher Knight
Toronto: New Stand Library, 1950

A mystery of sorts that begins in a Montreal nightclub, but quickly shifts to a yacht bound for the Bahamas; the novel itself is directionless. Promises of sex come to nothing, despite the presence of a hooker and a promiscuous heiress.

Dark Passions Subdue
Douglas Sanderson
New York: Avon, 1953

The author's debut, this "story of the men who don't belong" deals with homosexuality and the angst of a privileged Westmount boy studying at McGill. Sanderson's "serious novel," it was first published in 1952 by Dodd, Mead.

Hot Freeze*
Martin Brett
     [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
New York: Popular Library, 1954

The greatest work of Montreal noir... and it's written by a transplanted Englishman. Go figure. Hot Freeze marks the debut of private dick Mike Garfin. It was first published the same year by Dodd, Mead.

French for Murder
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Fawcett, 1954

Moore's third pulp, the first not set in Montreal. American Noah Cain stumbles upon a murder scene and spends the rest of the novel running around France trying to find the girl who can clear his name.
Blondes Are My Trouble*
Martin Brett
     [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
New York: Popular Library, 1955

The second Mike Garfin novel – very nearly as good as the first – sees the private dick doing battle with a Montreal prostitution ring. Originally published in 1954 by Dodd, Mead under the title The Darker Traffic.

A Bullet for My Lady
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Fawcett, 1955

Josh Camp arrives Barcelona to search for his missing business partner. A treasure hunt ensues. By far Moore's weakest and silliest novel (writes this great admirer).

This Gun for Gloria
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Fawcett, 1956

Disgraced journalist Mitch Cannon, down and out in Paris, is approached by a wealthy American matron who wants his help in finding her daughter. He refuses, but does it anyway.
Hickory House
Kenneth Orvis
     [pseud. Kenneth Lemieux]
Toronto: Harlequin, 1956

By a Montrealer, but set in an anonymous city on the shores of Lake Michigan. I'm reading it right now and would appreciate hearing from anyone who knew the mysterious Mr Orvis.
Murder in Majorca
Michael Bryan [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Dell 1957

The last Brian Moore pulp, published between The Feast of Lupercal and his very best Montreal novel, The Luck of Ginger Coffey. Moore left the city for New York in 1959, much to our loss.

The Pyx
John Buell
New York: Crest, 1960

An unusual, highly impressive first novel in which Catholicism, the occult, prostitution, heroin, wealth and privilege all come into play. The basis for the less impressive 1973 film of the same name, it was first published in 1959 by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy.

C'est tout.

Have I missed anything?

Let me know.

11 October 2016

The Sea Lord Unsheathes His Sword

Sea Lord [The Swordsman]
William C. Heine
Don Mills: ON: PaperJacks, 1984

William C. Heine's The Last Canadian is one of the worst novels I've ever read; its ending stands as the stupidest.

God, it's awful.

You'll understand then why I so much wanted to read Sea Lord, the author's only other work of fiction. I hunted for years, scouring used book stores, thrift shops and garage sales, but never saw a single copy. It shouldn't have been such a challenge. A former editor of the London Free Press, Heine was a local author, and the novel had enjoyed a couple of good mass market paperback runs. The first, published as The Swordsman (Toronto: Seal, 1980), had the better cover, but I wasn't picky.

In the end, I resorted to one of those "weedy companies" that sell books for a penny.

A bargain at twice the price.

Sea Lord – the Swordsman, if you prefer – is Mirand, slave of Tehemil, born of a fallen Greek noblewoman in ancient Tyre. The first page is nearly his last as he suffers a near-fatal knife attack at the hands of a hired assassin. In the first page of The Last Canadian, hero Gene Arnprior stays up late watching TV in his suburban Montreal home.

On the surface, Heine's two novels seem very different, but they're not. Both adolescent fantasies, in the first, Gene Arnprior wanders a post-Apocalyptic world, beds some babes, and is remembered as one of the greatest figures in history; in the second, Mirand wanders the ancient world, beds babes, and is remembered as one of the greatest figures in history. In his own time he's considered a god.

Mirand is very much mortal. The slave owes his life to ironworker and renowned swordmaker Elisha, who hides the injured slave in his house. Beautiful daughter Naomi slowly nurses Mirand back from near-death as he stares at "the swelling lines of her dress, straining to hold her full breasts":
He amused himself as he sipped the broth with the thought that on [sic] day he would possess her. As a spasm of pain burned across his torn body, he choked on a half-laugh of self-pity and amusement. "If I live," he amended his promise to himself, "if I live I will lie with her one day."
Ah, classic Heine.

When the spasms subside and hearty laughter returns, Mirand becomes Elisha's apprentice, all the while fantasizing about his saviour's beautiful daughter:
Now he indulged himself in his daydream while his arms and hands methodically shaped hot iron under a hammer. "She is beautiful, and she is strong, too. I saw her practicing on the beach with bow and arrow and she could split a plank better than her father. Those arms are strong but her breasts are soft and someday I'll lie in her perfumed bed, with linen cloths like Tehemil had, and cool wine waiting in a flagon, while I kiss the ironworker's daughter and stroke her breasts and slide into her. I'll rouse her out of her coolness... she will beg for more..." and he gave the rod he was hammering a blow that snapped it in two. 
Not only do Mirand and Naomi lie together, they marry and have children. With papa Elisha and a mother-in-law who barely exists, he amasses immense wealth trading goods throughout the Mediterranean. A mistress, a kidnapping and an attack by pirates bring excitement to what would otherwise be a rather mundane existence. The biggest and longest of Mirand's adventures begins with a voyage to the western coast of Africa made without Naomi and the in-laws. The ship is caught in a violent storm and, a couple of months later, he and his crew wash ashore in South America.

There Mirand finds favour and more with an Aztec king known as Iximhunti. Owing to Mirand's blond locks, the monarch determines that the newcomer is a god, showers him with gifts and insists he sleep with his beautiful daughter.

And yet, Mirand longs for home.

Using all they've managed to salvage from the Minnow, he and his crew construct a ship unlike any the world has ever seen, and set off in the expectation that they will find a current that will take them home.

Will they make it?

Did I care?

Heine learned something working on The Last Canadian. The writing on this sophomore effort is better, and yet I was bored to tears. All has to do with the fact that The Last Canadian takes place during Cold War, a time I remember well. Heine's take on the geopolitical world of Pierre Trudeau, Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev is so absurd as to be entertaining, but I have no idea what to make of his depiction of ancient Tyre. Accurate? Astute? Silly? He didn't make me care enough to find out.

The only thing that kept me going was the hope of another stupid ending.

I wasn't disappointed.

Favourite passage:
It was as pretty a fight as Carthage had seen for many moons. It lasted as long as it takes a man to make a woman desperately anxious, which depends greatly on the skill of the man and the experience of the woman, but is measured by each in different terms.
Object: An entirely unattractive 256-page mass market paperback with cover art by Martin Visser. At first glance it looked to be one of PaperJacks' more competent productions, then I noticed this:

The Swordsman? But, um, we're calling it Sea Lord now, right? Remind me again why we're keeping the title of his book on historic sailing ships a secret.

Access: Library and Archives Canada has the novel in its collection, as do four of our universities. C'est tout.

As The Swordsman, used copies of the Seal first edition range in price from US$1.50 ("Very Good") to US$78.54 ("Good"). PaperJacks' butt ugly Sea Lord edition is far less common. As of this writing, just two are being offered online: US$6.25 ("Fair/Good") and US$12.00 ("VG+").

In 1984, Robert Hale published the first and only British edition (right). A hardcover, the only copy I've ever seen – indeed, the only copy listed online – is offered by Attic Books, mere blocks from Heine's old newspaper office. A Near Fine signed copy, it's being offered at US$100.

Just the thing for the Heine collector.

Related post:

07 October 2016

Canadian Notes & Queries en couleur

The new Canadian Notes & Queries arrived in the post a couple of days ago. The first colour issue – after forty-eight years in glorious black, white and grey – 'tis truly a thing of beauty.

My contribution, this season's Dusty Bookcase on paper, was inspired by the centenary of Ted Allan's birth this past January. The Gazette did not recognize, but I did. Of all the Allan titles in my collection, the focus of the column was the one that had remained unread: Don't You Know Anybody Else? It's a slim volume of short stories, published in the wake of Allan's fraudulent Stephen Leacock Medal win. Disturbing, though perhaps not so much as his original Love is a Long ShotDon't You Know Anybody Else? it is one of those books sold as something it is not. 

In the same issue, I've contributed to a new feature: "What's Old: Notable CanLit reissues & offerings from the country's antiquarian booksellers". Still more retro goodness is to be found in Stephen Fowler's exhumation of Let's All Hate Toronto, a "narration, illustration and exhortation" by Jack McLaren.

Wish I could join in, but I can't... our daughter was born there. God Bless Women's College Hospital, I say!

Other contributors include:
Mark Callanan
Peter Dubé
Alison Gilmour
Amanda Jernigan
Shaena Lambert
Colette Maitland
David Mason
Shane Neilson
Diane Obomsawin
Laura Ritland
Patricia Robertson
Anakana Schofield
Patricia Smart
J.C. Sutciffe
Bruce Whiteman
Finally, it would be a great mistake to not mention Jason Dickson's interview with bookseller and poet Nelson Ball. I've drawn on Nelson's extensive knowledge of obscure CanLit so very many times in writing the Dusty Bookcase; what's more, he has provided me with many of the books covered here over the years. Just last week, Nelson sent me these two by Kenneth Orvis, the subject of a future CNQ Dusty Bookcase.

How's that for a tease?

Subscriptions to Canadian Notes & Queries can be purchased through this link.

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06 October 2016

Tonight: A.M. Klein at the Writers' Chapel

Not Klein himself, of course, but an evening held in celebration of his life, culminating with the unveiling of a plaque in his honour.

Ian McGillis writes about the Chapel in yesterday's Montreal Gazette:

St. Jax Montréal (formerly St. James the Apostle)
1439 St. Catherine Street West (Bishop Street entrance)

The event begins at 6:00. 

All are welcome.

04 October 2016

The Return of Frances Shelley Wees

Regular readers may recall last November's rave review of Frances Shelley Wees's 1956 The Keys of My Prison. Titled "A Rival for Margaret Millar?", it began with another question:
Is The Keys of My Prison typical Frances Shelley Wees? If so, she's a writer who deserves attention. If not, the worst that can be said is that she wrote at least one novel worthy of same.
You may also remember passing mention last December of a novel I was hoping to return to print.

That novel is, of course, The Keys of My Prison. I'm pleased to announce it is shipping as I write. The eleventh Ricochet Books title, the new edition features an Introduction by Rosemary Aubert, author of the Ellis Portal mystery series. It marks a return to print of one of this country's earliest mystery writers. From The Maestro Murders (1931) to The Last Concubine (1970), Wees's career stretched nearly four decades.

Is The Keys of My Prison the very best of Frances Shelley Wees? I won't pretend to know. All I can say at present is that it is the best I've read. It is also one of the very best Canadian mysteries of the 'fifties.

Here's how I describe it in the catalogue copy:
A disturbing tale of identity and deception set in 1950s Toronto. 
That Rafe Jonason’s life didn’t end when he smashed up his car was something of a miracle; on that everyone agreed. However, the devoted husband and pillar of the community emerges from hospital a very different man. Coarse and intolerant, this new Rafe drinks away his days, showing no interest in returning to work. Worst of all, he doesn’t appear to recognize or so much as remember his loving wife Julie. Tension and suspicion within the couple’s Rosedale mansion grow after it is learned that Rafe wasn’t alone in the car that night. Is it that Julie never truly knew her husband? Or might it be that this man isn’t Rafe Jonason at all?
The Keys of My Prison is available in our very best bookstores and from publisher Véhicule Press.

Related post:

03 October 2016

Behold! The Man from Glengarry!

A brief addendum to last Monday's post:

Given the once overwhelming popularity of The Man from Glengarry: A Tale of the Ottawa, it is curious that illustrations depicting its hero are so very few. Connor may have outsold Montgomery, but Ranald Macdonald is no Anne Shirley. I count only a few, beginning with the man on the cover of the Westminster first edition:

Toronto: Westminster, 1901
This is followed by the rather sinister-looking figure on the cover of Revell's first American:

Chicago: Revell, 1901
Then there's this depiction, which appears on a poster that Revell sent around to booksellers:

Of course, not one of these is so fantastic as that featured on the Tutis Classics' edition above. Here the God-fearing 19th-century lumberman is recast as some sort of futuristic warrior hovering over a barren wasteland. The effects of clearcutting, I suppose.

Sadly, Tutis is no more. The print on demand house responsible for some of the strangest covers ever closed shop years ago, but not before giving The Man from Glengarry a new cover. The image isn't the greatest, I know, but it's all we've got; in all likelihood there was no demand. Still, I've been able to identify the man meant to be Ranald Macdonald as George Washington. That isn't the Ottawa Valley, but Valley Forge.

Another time, another place.

I'm happy to say that I grabbed images of the other Tutis Connors before the company's website disappeared. Their offerings began with the author's second novel, The Sky Pilot: A Tale of the Foothills (1899), the story of missionary Arthur Wellington Moore, who travels west to convert cowboys and settlers in what would one day become the Province of Alberta.

In The Patrol of the Sun Dance Trail (1914), Corporal Cameron, hero of Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police (1912), faces the prospect of rebellion along the northern plains of the Saskatchewan.

Often misidentified as a sequel to The Sky Pilot, The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land (1919) has handsome Chaplain Barry Dunbar ministering to the troops in the muddy and bloody trenches of the Great War.

Finally, there's To Him that Hath (1922), a novel set just after the Great War in the fictional town of Black Water, Ontario. Connor drew his inspiration from the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.

That's it. Just five of the author's twenty-six novels.

Come back, Tutis! I want to see what you'd do with The Girl from Glengarry, never mind The Gay Crusader.

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